The State Government's “ambitious claim” to make the State barrier-free for persons with disabilities by March 2011 may remain a distant dream, observed N. Rathna, former Director of All India Institute of Speech and Hearing, Mysore, and a leading academic in the field of speech and hearing.

He was speaking at the inauguration of the “National symposium on accessibility of water and sanitation for persons with disabilities” organised here on Thursday. With just a year to go for the deadline, Prof. Rathna noted that the cosmopolitan city of Bangalore had no disability-friendly toilets, ramps, Braille-etching on lifts or accessible roads. He also observed that the University Grants Commission's aid to colleges, in place since the ninth Five-Year Plan, had not trickled-down to benefit public universities and colleges. “These funds have been of benefit only to prestigious institutions and are yet to reach State universities in Bangalore, let along reach mofussil and rural colleges as envisioned by the Eleventh Five Year Olan,” he said.

Prof. Rathna emphasised on the need for “attitudinal changes”, backed by political will and vision to ensure that the differently-abled have free and fair access to basic amenities such as clean water and sanitation. Referring to a pot designed by the RRTC in Chennai that would swivel on its azis so that a disabled person could easily manipulate the handle, he said that economic gadgets and accessibility tools must be developed to help this section.

Welcoming delegates, that included students and activists, president of the Society for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies G.N. Karna said that it was imperative that accessibility to water and sanitation be improved in the country, particularly in rural pockets. “Around 80 per cent of disabled persons live in rural and hilly areas with limited or no access to any of these basic facilities. This is a matter of human rights,” he said.

Providing a “human perspective” and looking at it as a social and human rights issue is critical to solve this problem, said R. Venkata Rao, Vice-Chancellor of the National Law School of India University. He also released a souvenir titled “Accessibility of Water and Sanitation for Persons with Disabilities in India”.

He said that policy and legal interventions could only work to an extent, and that real change had to be brought about by changing attitudes in society towards the disabled.

Registrar (evaluation) of Bangalore University M.S. Talawar and Vice-Chancellor N. Prabhu Dev spoke.